Study: Health issues afflict more LGBT youths

People who work with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths in Chicago have long known that their clients face more health problems than the area's heterosexual youths.

But a new study from the IMPACT LGBT Health and Development Program at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University has produced data showing just how wide the health gap can be between the two populations.

The report found that LGBT youths in Chicago are more likely to report depression and past suicide attempts; engage in risky sexual behavior; use tobacco, alcohol and marijuana; and be victims of sexual violence.

Suicide attempts among LGBT youths were about twice that of heterosexual youths, 26.3 to 12.7 percent. About 43 percent of LGBT high school students reported being sad or depressed, compared with about 30 percent of their heterosexual peers.

"There are a lot of impressions and a sense that people have out there that a lot of these disparities exist," said Brian Mustanski, director of the IMPACT program. "Our goal was really to create a report that would provide the data that would put the meat on the bones of what these disparities are, that would really shed light on them."

Mustanski said one of the more disturbing disparities was the considerably higher rate of sexual violence experienced by LGBT youths. About 9 percent of heterosexual female youths report being forced to have sex, compared with nearly 18 percent among lesbian and bisexual female youths. About 7 percent of young male heterosexuals report being forced to have sex, while about 25 percent of gay and bisexual male youths report such sexual violence.

"You're 15 or 16, you're thrown out of your house because you're gay, you come down to Halsted Street or downtown at 3 o'clock in the morning and the way you find something to eat or a nice place to stay is when someone picks you up on the street," said Rick Garcia, a longtime activist in the LGBT community and policy director for The Civil Rights Agenda. "Those of us who work in the gay community and with youth know very clearly that gay and lesbian and transgender youth are at risk and do not have the same kinds of services or attention as their heterosexual counterparts."

The Northwestern study concludes that Chicago's LGBT youths require a far greater support system, calling for everything from increased funding for suicide prevention services and sexual health education to creating and supporting gay-straight alliances in high schools.

Another important factor, Mustanski said, is providing parents of LGBT children with information and resources.

"We've published several papers documenting the positive effects that parental acceptance and support can have, particularly for teenagers," he said. "I talk to a lot of parents who say, 'I want to take care of my gay son and make sure he's doing well, but I don't know how to help him.' They're really looking for resources for how to be good parents."

Terry Dudley, 19, grew up on the South Side and said he had no access to LGBT resources.

"Especially if you're a gay male and you're black, they didn't have anything," said Dudley, now a student at Roosevelt University. "I never found any role models. I didn't know about support groups. I didn't know I could openly talk about being gay with somebody. If they would've had places like that on the South Side, it would've made me feel more confident and not feel ashamed about my sexuality."

rhuppke@tribune.com